Figures show increase in tenants failing to vacate homes at end of lease

Three most common issues were rent arrears, over–holding and invalid notice of termination

TD Ruth Coppingers says figures show ‘the absolute cowboy behaviour by many landlords in the private rented sector’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

TD Ruth Coppingers says figures show ‘the absolute cowboy behaviour by many landlords in the private rented sector’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The number of complaints about tenants in rent arrears and failing to vacate a property at the end of their lease increased by more than 50 per cent last year amid the ongoing housing crisis.

Figures from the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) for 2016 reveal there were 737 such complaints from landlords in 2016 compared to 470 the previous year. In 2014, there were 315 complaints about rent arrears and tenants staying beyond their notice period (over-holding).

The figures also show there were 351 complaints about illegal evictions by landlords last year compared to 320 in 2015.

The number of evictions as a percentage of total tenancies has remained largely flat since 2012, at slightly under 1 per cent per year.

There were 1,111 complaints to the agency about landlords giving invalid notice of termination last year, up from 924 (20 per cent) in 2015.

Landlord complaints against tenants for alleged anti-social behaviour increased by 71 per cent to 279 last year from 163 the previous year. The figure represents less than one per cent of all registered tenancies.

In total, the agency dealt with 4,837 cases as part of its dispute resolution process last year.

The top three most common issues in dispute in 2015 were rent arrears, and rent arrears and over–holding at 32 per cent, followed by invalid notice of termination at 23 per cent and deposit retention at 22 per cent.

The RTB resolves disputes between landlords and tenants without them having to resort to the courts.

It is also the statutory body responsible for a national registration system for all private residential tenancies.

‘Cowboy behaviour’

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, who obtained the figures from the agency, said they showed a deterioration in the situation faced by tenants.

“The latest figures from the body show a 43 per cent increase in the number of cases the board is dealing with since 2014, despite tenancies only increasing by 7 per cent,” Ms Coppinger said.

A key piece of legislation in the Government’s rental strategy published at the end of last year made it easier to evict tenants, she said.

“Yet the RTB figures show a doubling of cases of tenants over-holding a property because their only other option was to become homeless.”

Ms Coppinger said the need for a deposit protection scheme was greater than ever given deposit retention cases had increased by 18 per cent in 2016 alone.

“The figures show the absolute cowboy behaviour by many landlords in the private rented sector,” she said.

“Illegal evictions by landlords have increased by 74 per cent since 2012, these are cases where the landlord is blatantly illegally, breaking a tenant’s lease. Presumably the vast majority of these cases are to evict tenants to get new ones in on higher rents. Before Christmas, we introduced a Bill, the Anti-Evictions Bill which would have seriously cut across this.”

Ms Coppinger claimed the Government was failing to properly resource the tenancies body, as it did not get extra funding to deal with its extra caseload.

A spokeswoman for the RTB said it was important to note that the rental sector had grown year on year and that there were 325,372 tenancies registered at the end of 2016.

“In line with the growth of the sector, dispute resolution applications have increased on average 16 per cent annually.

“However it is important to note that the number of dispute applications received in comparison to the number of tenancies registered has remained steady at 1-2 per cent.”

She said there had not been a substantial growth of any particular dispute type.

Separately, on Wednesday the RTB sought expressions of interest from individuals interested in serving as a member of the board.

Incorrect paperwork

Fintan McNamara, director of the Residential Landlords’ Association of Ireland, said the main increases in problems were in rent arrears and over–holding of properties, both of which were symptomatic of the cost of rents and lack of availability.

He said complaints of illegal evictions are sometimes confused with what are actually invalid notices of termination, and these are often simply the product of incorrect paperwork.

The association believes a minority of tenants use a complex system to buy time, opting for an RTB adjudication on a complaint, possibly followed by an appeal and a Circuit Court enforcement of their eviction, all of which can take months.

“It’s not that common but it does happen,” he said.

“The RTB in fairness to them have speeded up their processes but they have to act within the law. It would be better for the RTB to enforce their decisions themselves without going to the courts but they have to.”

Mr McNamara spoke of one landlord owed €17,000 in rent arrears with €10,000 in estimated damage to the property but the tenant refuses to leave.

Deposit retention

John-Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Threshold, said that due to a “sustained level of pressure” in the private rental market, many tenants are feeling the effect of rising prices.

“Part of the issue is around tenants with nowhere else to go, especially lower income tenants that don’t have any alternative,” he said.

Threshold, which works with those experiencing housing problems, sees a lot of cases of disputes over the retention of deposits and poor standards in rental accommodation.

Mr McCafferty said they would like to see the burden of proof regarding minimum standards put on the landlord although this should be linked in with tax reforms that would benefit both property owners and tenants.

He said there was also the need for the implementation of a deposit protection scheme whereby a third party “honest broker” would hold onto money and safeguard against its undue retention.